Is Cam Norrie doing it right?

He’s suddenly become part of the British tennis consciousness. But it’s been a long time coming.

Cameron Norrie’s path as a junior was slightly muddled. He was born in South Africa to British parents, but initially represented New Zealand after his family moved out there. At the age of 16 he switched to Great Britain, taking up a spot at the National Tennis Centre in London.

From that point, there is a well-trodden path. LTA funding, reasonable success at junior level, a steady transition to the pro circuit, a solid top 100 ranking.

But Cam Norrie went off-script – he chose to go to America. To study.

Texas_Christian_University_June_2017_40_(Mary_Couts_Burnett_Library).jpg

Texas Christian University: Not a bad place to call home. (Credit: Michael Barera)

He said he wanted a “more balanced lifestyle”, having his life revolve around tennis had made him fall out of love with the sport. And in America he would still play a lot, at a very good level, but he would have other things in his life, as he pursued a sociology degree.

It’s bold – to move outside your comfort zone, to alter your expectations by removing yourself from the warm embrace of the LTA and throwing yourself into the fiercely competitive American collegiate league. But it worked. Norrie quickly became the number one college player in the US. He got into the habit of winning.

And that’s why he didn’t have to wait long for his first ATP tour win. He turned pro in June 2017. Later that month, at the Eastbourne International, he beat world number 49 Horacio Zeballos. And it was only eight months later that he battled back from two sets down for his biggest win to date: a Davis Cup victory over world number 23 Roberto Bautista-Agut.

There have been many near misses for British players over the years. It may well be the same for Cam Norrie. But he’s built a life for himself outside of tennis. He can return to Texas Christian University, finish his degree, and get on with a ‘normal’ life if that’s what he wants to do. He’s taken the pressure off himself before he’s even got going.

It wouldn’t suit everyone, and there should never be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to sport – but I admire Cam Norrie for doing it his own way. And if more British junior looked up and saw that there is a world outside tennis, I don’t think it would do us much harm.

 

 

Advertisements

Nothing to see here, as Djokovic loses in Indian Wells

It just shouldn’t be surprising.

Only five weeks after Novak Djokovic had surgery on his elbow, he’s lost to world number 109 Taro Daniel.

It’s either testament to Djokovic’s quality, or a great insult to Daniel that this is any kind of surprise. Even prior to the surgery, Djokovic had played just five competitive matches in six months, having spent most of the back end of 2017 out of action.

And it’s often cited that the most important part of Djokovic’s game is his physicality. I would suggest it’s actually his belief in his physicality.

“It felt like the first match I ever played on tour,” he said after the defeat.

800px-Novak_Djokovic,_Qatar_Open_2016

I remember watching him in the days before his remarkable 2011 season. His defeat to Marat Safin at Wimbledon in 2008 – when he hit 10 double faults – in particular points to a mental fragility that is usually masked by supreme physical confidence.

To see him struggle against Daniel, in a three-set battle, isn’t a surprise, just a reassertion of the depth of quality in professional tennis. Daniel was in an excellent place to take advantage of a Djokovic who, in his own words, is starting from scratch.

When the Serb got things together in 2011, it was the start of one of the most remarkable runs in modern tennis; a 41-match winning streak and only one defeat to Nadal and Federer all year. The question is, at the age of 30, has he got the resolve to build that kind of killer confidence again?

I wholeheartedly believe he does – despite the fragility he has sometimes shown, he is one of the most incredible competitors the sport has seen. And his speciality; reinventing himself when times are tough. So this defeat at Indian Wells could help trigger a new incarnation for Nole.

What’s happened to David Moyes?

Remember when David Moyes was cool? When he was tipped to be the ‘next big thing’ in football management?

If you’re new to the Premier League, you could be forgiven for scoffing at any suggestion that Moyes once inspired optimism and even success.

David_Moyes_(201551591).jpg

Young, wild and free – Moyes in his heady hey-day at Everton. Image credit: Jason Gulledge (via Flickr)

But here’s a stat for the doubters. He has been awarded the third most ‘Manager of the Month’ awards in the Premier League’s history, after Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. Unbelievable, I know.

Now, in the apocalyptic landscape of 2017, David Moyes is just another victim of our changing world order. He has become a miserable, browbeaten pessimist. From the start of this season, he has told fans that things ‘can’t dramatically change’ and they should expect another relegation catfight.

And to confound his perpetual misery, his recent comments to a BBC reporter paint him in a rather bad light. It may just be the manifestation of the massive pressure he is under, but you can’t help thinking he should – as a Premier League manager – handle it better.

Can Moyes perform an Easter miracle to resurrect the Black Cats’ season?

Arsene Wenger can do nothing right

Things change when you start to lose. It’s like the ground gives way beneath you and you can do nothing to reverse the slide. And for a football manager, decisions you make always seem to be wrong.

I’ve always been a great Arsene Wenger admirer. And I still am. I acknowledge that now might be a good time for him to move on, but it must be his own decision. And it must be when the board are ready for him to leave, with a suitable successor in place (and ‘suitable successor’ absolutely does not include Diego Simeone – a good manager, but it’d be like asking Stephen Hawking to write a poetry collection: Wenger and Simeone come from two very different schools of thought).

In the meantime, he is still there. And his achievements of the last 20 years still stand. But now, because it’s the ‘in thing’, he is criticised for any and every decision.

15339559916_ab7cf90a68_z

We can’t attack Wenger’s legacy because his side have had a rare slump. Image credit: Ronnie Macdonald (Flickr)

As a case in point, I switched on the BBC Radio 5 Live commentary for Arsenal’s game against Manchester City today. Martin Keown was criticising Wenger’s decision to bring on Olivier Giroud, citing Alex Iwobi as a ‘more mobile’ option.

Now I agree with the point in principle – but I can say with relative confidence that he would not have made that criticism if they were coming off the back of a 10 match unbeaten run. Decisions like that can’t be right or wrong. Who’s to say that Giroud won’t come on and score a spectacular scorpion kick?

Criticism mounts up in the same way that defeats do. The longer the losing run, the greater the scrutiny and the easier it is to pick things out for criticism. Even things which, for anyone else, might be deemed a stroke of genius.

But just because something’s fashionable, doesn’t mean it’s right. Look at the mullet. That was fashionable. And whilst criticising Wenger is in vogue for pundits everywhere, I still think we should be wary of going overboard.

Amateur athletes in a professional age – where has the money gone?

On the day that UK Sport’s cuts to some sports funding comes into effect, you can’t help thinking that we find ourselves in a bizarre situation.

Sport is a money-making behemoth. You only need to go to a Premier League match or a major tennis tournament to understand the scale of the financial operation. There are so many people and so many businesses who choose to tie their interests up with professional sport.

So how are we in a position where badminton, wheelchair rugby, archery, fencing and weightlifting will all lose the UK Sport funding they rely on?

The athletes who will be hit are all professionals. Most of them are very successful professionals. Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis won the men’s doubles bronze at the Rio Olympics, Britain’s first badminton medal in 12 years. They will have to fund themselves on tour, as badminton loses all its £5.7million UK Sport funding today.

2725181343_b142008384_b.jpg

Have UK Sport cocked up? Image credit: Dee’Lite (Flickr).

Participation figures in badminton have been in steady decline since 2008. And if you look at the situation now, what reasons would there be to pick up a shuttlecock?

Even worse is the situation for wheelchair rugby. Their athletes performed valiantly in Rio, finishing fifth. And their thanks? The loss of £750,000 a year of vital UK Sport’s funding.

I was told by a source close to the top of the GB Wheelchair Rugby hierarchy that the GB team could be disbanded within the year if funds aren’t found sharp-ish. That is a shocking statement.

It goes without saying that the most visible sports are also the most monied. They perpetuate each other. So it’s easy to forget that, for the vast majority of professional athletes, it’s often a case of scraping by.

I can’t help thinking that it’d be nice to redistribute certain players’ Premier League wages…

Nick Kygrios is a victim of the media treadmill

The Aussie youngster has had a rough time of it. He has the exclusive title of being tennis’ one and only ‘bad boy’.

And some of the incidents he’s been involved with have been regrettable. Sledging Stan Wawrinka by claiming that countryman Thanasi Kokkanakis ‘slept with [his] girlfriend’ was up there. As was the behaviour – described as a ‘lack of best efforts’ – which resulted in a $16,500 fine from the Shanghai Masters.

18614670813_d28fa00712_z

Tennis’ only bad boy spices things up. Image credit: Carine06.

But to claim that he’s already a wasted talent or a ‘disgrace’ to tennis (as he has been branded in much of the mainstream media) is a stretch.

I believe he is another victim of the need for news, the need to make something out of nothing.

Athletes find themselves in an unenviable position, where they must be entertaining, whilst being some kind of saint-like role model, before they’ve even stepped out onto the field of play.

Not many people could deny that Kyrgios is entertaining. So would they prefer him to blend into the bland obscurity of the vast majority of media savvy tennis stars? No. Because then they’d have nothing to write about.

But that’s not going to stop them feigning moral outrage at his antics.

Heroes and Villains

This week’s World Championships reminded me of Sean Connery tied to the table in Goldfinger. The film’s charismatic villain swaggering before a hopeless Bond, detailing his plans for world domination before he finally manages to dispose of the pesky secret agent. Goldfinger takes his time, chats cordially to Bond and then leaves our sweetheart to be eaten up by the laser beam.

But then, with the end in sight, there’s a stumble.

And just as Goldfinger was thwarted by Bond with just seconds remaining, so Usain Bolt steps up to deliver on the biggest stage, as we always knew he would. He snatched victory from underneath Justin Gatlin’s running spikes.

Gatlin seems to have embraced his role as villain just as readily as Bolt has hero, with his agent claiming after the 100m final that ‘only Gatlin beat Gatlin’.

But that disregards the greatest sprinter ever, the six-time Olympic Gold Medal winner, and the hero of our sport: Usain Bolt. Gatlin was beaten by the sustained supremacy of Bolt over the last seven years. As Michael Johnson has since said, Justin Gatlin needs to show signs of contrition before he can be considered as anything other than a villain, a foil for the heroes of the sport to thrash it out against.

Meanwhile, Andy Murray has been reassigned the role of Daniel Craig’s Bond; a gritty and more reluctant hero. He’s forced into the position of tennis’s ‘saviour’ as he faces Nick Kyrgios in the first round of the US Open.

Just as Hollywood constructs these diametric oppositions between good and evil, so it is not just a coincidence that many of sports biggest rivalries are characterised in such black and white terms.

Sean Connery wasn't always keen on being the hero, just as Bolt has expressed reservations about his portrayal in the media.

Sean Connery wasn’t always keen on being the hero, just as Bolt has expressed reservations about his portrayal in the media.

Goldfinger wasn’t saving the world, but he was the focal point of the film. Kyrgios and Gatlin are never going to struggle to draw a crowd, they are the ones you don’t want to miss. As long as the good guy wins, it’s ok to have a couple of baddies isn’t it?